Why the "hard" problem of consciousness is easy and the "easy" problem hard. (And how to make progress)
by Aaron Sloman, Honorary Professor (retired) at School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK on Nov 21, 2009
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The "hard" problem of concsiousness can be shown to be a non-problem because it is formulated using a seriously defective concept (the concept of "phenomenal consciousness" defined so as to rule out ...
The "hard" problem of concsiousness can be shown to be a non-problem because it is formulated using a seriously defective concept (the concept of "phenomenal consciousness" defined so as to rule out cognitive functionality and causal powers).
So the hard problem is an example of a well known type of philosophical problem that needs to be dissolved (fairly easily) rather than solved. For other examples, and a brief introduction to conceptual analysis, see http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/research/projects/cogaff/misc/varieties-of-atheism.html
In contrast, the so-called "easy" problem requires detailed analysis of very complex and subtle features of perceptual processes, introspective processes and other mental processes, sometimes labelled "access consciousness": these have cognitive functions, but their complexity (especially the way details change as the environment changes or the perceiver moves) is considerable and very hard to characterise.
"Access consciousness" is complex also because it takes many different forms, since what individuals are conscious of and what uses being conscious of things can be put to, can vary hugely, from simple life forms, through many other animals and human infants, to sophisticated adult humans,
Finding ways of modelling these aspects of consciousness, and explaining how they arise out of physical mechanisms, requires major advances in the science of information processing systems -- including computer science and neuroscience.
There are empirical facts about introspection that have generated theories of consciousness but some of the empirical facts go unnoticed by philosophers.
The notion of a virtual machine is introduced briefly and illustrated using Conway's "Game of life" and other examples of virtual machinery that explain how contents of consciousness can have causal powers and can have intentionality (be able to refer to other things).
The beginnings of a research program are presented, showing how more examples can be collected and how notions of virtual machinery may need to be developed to cope with all the phenomena.
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